by Al Maxey

Issue #407 ------- August 10, 2009
The deplorable mania of doubt exhausts me.
I doubt about everything, even about my doubts.

Gustave Flaubert {1821-1880}

A Study of Rebaptism
Taking the Plunge ... Again

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a minister of the gospel in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. This devoted servant of our Lord and Savior wrote, "Brother Al, I appreciate your ministry in writing your weekly Reflections. Countless people are being greatly blessed by these writings. Al, I'd like your insights concerning rebaptism. Lately, a number of people in their late teens and twenties at our congregation have expressed an interest in being rebaptized. What are your thoughts on this? Thank you in advance for your time."

The practice of rebaptism may not seem like a very significant topic to many disciples of Christ today, but it was huge in centuries past among a great many Christian groups, and it was actually one of the areas of heated debate within the Stone-Campbell Movement that contributed to its eventual fragmentation near the beginning of this past century. Some of the "great names" of this movement engaged in "great dissension and debate" [Acts 15:2] over whether rebaptism was either necessary or "Scriptural." David Lipscomb, for example, vehemently opposed the practice, speaking out on the matter repeatedly over the years. A good example of this may be seen in his articles Rebaptism Reviewed [Gospel Advocate, Dec. 12, 1907] and The Revised Testament and Rebaptism [Gospel Advocate, Sept. 25, 1913]. David Lipscomb (1831-1917) felt that the only acceptable reason for immersing a person again was in the case of those individuals "who had not understandingly been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." All other reasons were deemed exceedingly frivolous, especially if the rebaptism was demanded of those who had not "properly perceived" that their own baptism was "for the remission of sins." Whether the forgiving of one's sins was part of the command, or part of the promise, was quite significant in this debate, and the leadership of this movement was split down the middle over it. If one's baptism was viewed as valid without this understanding, then one would be forced to admit that the baptisms of a good many people outside our churches were also valid, thus opening the doors to the expansion of "the borders of the kingdom beyond those identified with the Churches of Christ. This was, as J. D. Tant revealed, a gospel issue" [Dr. John Mark Hicks, Rebaptism: The Real Rub]. Dr. Hicks points out the fact that this was "the most discussed question among Churches of Christ in the papers" of that day, with "over 200 articles -- not including notices of debates, books and pamphlets about the subject -- from 1897-1907" [ibid].

According to such men as David Lipscomb, James A. Harding, Daniel Sommer, E. G. Sewell, Walter Scott, Moses Lard, J. W. McGarvey, Benjamin Franklin, B. C. Goodpasture, and a host of others, a sincere disciple's depth of understanding should not be made the determining factor as to the validity of his or her baptism. And, yes, this included their perception, or lack thereof, of the connection of remission with immersion. Others, however, such as Austin McGary and J. D. Tant, could not have disagreed more. If one's understanding was wrong, then one's baptism was wrong. Period! Those associated with the Gospel Advocate were so strongly opposed to rebaptism in their publication that "in 1884, Austin McGary and Elijah Hansborough started the Firm Foundation especially to promote the rebaptism issue" [Cecil Hook, Rebaptism for the "Right Purpose"].

According to the former group of leaders, "the kingdom is broader than those who were immersed for the specific purpose of the remission of sins (or to be saved) and they did not believe that all those outside the borders of the 'Churches of Christ' were lost. This gracious attitude toward those who walk sincerely among the denominations is what the editors of the Firm Foundation feared, because it enlarged the kingdom beyond the borders of their vision of the 'Church of Christ.' So, the rebaptism controversy was, I think, a struggle within Churches of Christ about the borders of the kingdom of God. It was truly part of movement toward more pronounced exclusivism within Churches of Christ" [Dr. John Mark Hicks, Rebaptism: The Real Rub]. The history of this struggle within our own faith-heritage is a fascinating one, and we have only touched the hem of the garment here. Such an in-depth historical examination, however, is not the purpose of this present article (as beneficial as such a study might prove to be). Thus, for those interested in examining this in more detail, I would strongly recommend Rebaptism in the Stone-Campbell Movement by Dr. Dallas Burdette (a true friend and faithful supporter of my Reflections ministry) and the book Re-Baptism? by Dr. Jimmy Allen.

Perhaps Bobby Valentine, another dear friend, published author, and Reflections supporter, stated the question before us best when he opined, "At the center of the debate is how much of the NT teaching concerning baptism a person must grasp before he can obey the Great Commission. Is one saved by submissive faith or precise knowledge? It is a critical question" [from Bobby's article Alexander Campbell, Rebaptism and Sectarianism]. It is indeed a very critical question; one which plagues many honest disciples even to this day. It's the age-old question: Is salvation knowledge-based or faith-based? Or is it some combination of both? I have sought to deal with this very question in an earlier issue of my Reflections (issue #91), so will not revisit the debate here. However, I will say, and I've taught this emphatically for a good many years now, that I'm completely convinced that our justification and salvation are by grace through faith, and not the result of any personal accomplishment, whether that be in either personal perception or precise practice. In other words, no man can be good enough, or work hard enough, or get it "right" enough, or even know enough to merit God's favor!! Justification and salvation are gifts given by grace and received by faith. Subsequent works, and our growth in knowledge, may demonstrate our appreciation for these gifts, but they do not serve to acquire them.

Having said that, the Scriptures nevertheless make it clear that certain actions expected of us by our God, if they are to be viewed as appropriate and acceptable, must be founded upon an awareness of a few basic truths. For example, the author of Hebrews writes, "he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" [Heb. 11:6]. How valid is one's "faith" if one does not even believe God exists? Such is just empty profession, nothing more. This is why James emphasizes the importance of demonstrated faith. Any fool can claim to have faith, but showing it in one's daily life is another matter altogether. Clearly, then, some degree of elemental understanding undergirding one's faith is required. The debate, of course, centers around the extent of this understanding. Alexander Campbell, for example, firmly believed, and even professed, that baptism and remission of sins were connected, however Campbell "strongly denied that cognitive comprehension of that fact was required by God -- only submissive faith that was obedient" [Bobby Valentine, Alexander Campbell, Rebaptism and Sectarianism]. Campbell wrote, "Remission of sins is, indeed, connected with baptism; but so is adoption, sanctification, and all the blessings of the new instruction. To be baptized for the remission of sins exclusively is not what is meant by 'putting on Christ,' nor by being 'immersed into Christ'" [Millennial Harbinger, 1831, p. 483].

Yes, a basic belief is required to validate one's baptism, and I doubt many would argue against this point. Indeed, when the Ethiopian eunuch said to Philip, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?", the response of Philip was, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." To which the Ethiopian replied, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" [Acts 8:36-37]. Mark 16:16 attests, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved." In Acts 2:38 Peter ordered the multitude to repent and be baptized. Does one believe strongly enough in the person and work of God's Son to turn his/her life over to the Lord? Is such a one willing to commit to following the Savior rather than following self? If so, then this act of baptism is a reflection of that deep, life-altering faith; a faith that, in intimate union with God's grace, saves us! If one was devoid of such faith when first immersed, then, in point of fact, one was not truly immersed ... at least not in a way that proved spiritually efficacious. They only succeeded in getting wet!! Immersion is a visible, outward manifestation of an inner spiritual reality. Without the latter (faith) the former (baptism) is an empty ritual.

Does the presence of a deep faith within the heart of the one being baptized also suggest the presence of deep knowledge and understanding of all aspects of the act of baptism? Of course not. These will increase during the course of our daily walk with the Lord Jesus, but there is no need to "rush to the water" every time we grow in understanding. The important thing is the obedience of faith, not perfection of perception. Look unto Abraham --- "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going" [Heb. 11:8]. Did Abraham receive the promise even though he lacked knowledge? Absolutely. Why? Because the promise was based upon his obedience of faith to the command of the Lord. Our God doesn't require us to understand everything; He requires us to live faithfully to His will, and this can be accomplished even by those who are newly born into His family.

Sadly, however, there have always been some people who have sought to use the rite of baptism as a tool to establish the parameters of their own sectarian control. Your baptism "doesn't count," because you do not agree with US on various party patterns and precepts. To ever be considered "one of US," you must bow to our perceptions. And since being IN US is the same as being IN HIM, you must be rebaptized so as to be an accepted member of His One Church (which, of course, is Our Group). And, brethren, it isn't just those within the dozens of factions within the Churches of Christ who are practicing such nonsense!! In a survey of 778 Southern Baptist pastors, 74% said they would not accept the baptism of those coming to them from the Assembly of God, and 87% said they would not accept the baptism of those coming from Churches of Christ [Dr. John Mark Hicks, Southern Baptist Rebaptism]. "I think this is rather sad. When immersion is hinged upon anything other than faith in Christ, it seems to me that it becomes an ecclesial -- and consequently sectarian -- power play. Baptism then serves denominational loyalty rather than serving faith in Jesus" [ibid]. Wayne Jackson, in his article Is "Re-Baptism" Scriptural?, spoke of the baptisms of those outside the Church of Christ group, saying that these many immersions are "contaminated by the accompaniment of a variety of doctrinal errors that invalidate the process." Thus, says Jackson, these people "need to submit to the ordinance again" [Christian Courier, June 3, 2003]. Wouldn't you just love to see a complete listing of these godless contaminating, invalidating "doctrinal errors"? --- although I suspect many of you could probably list them, having dealt before with legalistic patternists. Any wagers as to whether musical instruments made the list?!!

Brethren, such deadly, deluded dogma cannot be found within the inspired writings of the New Covenant canon!! This is nothing other than sectarianism raising its ugly head once again. Is there any biblical justification for the practice of rebaptism? Yes, there is. But, it is far more limited and restricted than many of our brethren perhaps realize. In fact, there is only one case in all of the New Testament writings of a rebaptism, and the reasons for this second immersion are made abundantly clear within the text. That passage is found in Acts 19:1-7. The apostle Paul had gone to the city of Ephesus where he "found some disciples." It is quite likely that these disciples had been taught by either John the Baptist or Apollos, or perhaps even both, for they had been baptized "into John's baptism" [Acts 19:3]. Apollos, as we all know, had been teaching in Ephesus [Acts 18:24], but "was acquainted only with the baptism of John" [Acts 18:25]. Thus, these twelve men [Acts 19:7] were unfamiliar with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, and were equally unfamiliar with the fuller teaching about the accomplished work of Jesus the Messiah. In the teaching of John we find preparation made for the Coming One. But the ministry of John was at an end; the One for whom he paved the way had come ... and not only come, but had completed His mission and ascended back to the Father. Pentecost was over; the Holy Spirit had been poured out ... key facts about which these disciples were woefully ignorant. They informed Paul, "We have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit" [Acts 19:2]. Paul knew immediately there was a problem --- they lacked that basic knowledge that was foundational to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In essence, these were twelve devoted disciples living in anticipation of the Messiah; they needed to be informed that He had come, so that they might enjoy that fuller relationship with Him and fellowship with their fellow believers!

Paul taught these disciples that "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus" [Acts 19:4]. "And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" [Acts 19:5]. Paul then laid his hands upon them, and these men all received the Holy Spirit, evidencing the same by speaking with tongues and prophesying [Acts 19:6]. So, what was the problem here that required another baptism? These men had submitted to a "pre-Pentecostal baptism as proclaimed and administered by John the Baptist --- a baptism of expectation rather than a baptism of fulfillment," as baptism in the name of Jesus now was. "Now that Jesus had come and accomplished His mission on earth; now that He was raised from the dead and exalted at God's right hand, from whence He had sent forth the promised gift of the Holy Spirit; an anticipatory baptism was inappropriate and inadequate" [Dr. F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 386]. The same could be said for the sacrifices under the Old Covenant. They were the shadows, not the Substance. Now that the One anticipated had come, it was into Him that they needed to be immersed. And this they did.

The teaching and example of this incident, as it pertains to the reason for rebaptism, is worlds away from what is typically promoted today. In the sectarian religious climate of today, rebaptism is required of anyone who comes to us from some group with whom we may differ on any number of doctrinal issues. If you come to us from a Baptist church, then you will need to be rebaptized. Everyone knows that the Baptists "don't baptize right." Of course, the Baptists say the same about us. I actually heard a preacher say once, "That man's baptism doesn't count ... he was baptized in and worshipped with a church that used a piano." Utter nonsense!! In reality, and in the spirit of our own Stone-Campbell Movement forefathers, there should be absolutely zero frivolous, sectarian rebaptisms. None!! However, IF ... and I really stress "IF" ... one was baptized without an awareness that Jesus is God's Son, and that He died and was raised again, then one truly has to question the validity of their baptism. Infant baptism would fall into this category. Forced baptisms (such as those performed during the Crusades) at the point of a sword would fall into this category. Being baptized so that your spouse or parents will "get off my back" would fall into this category. All of my friends were doing it, and I did not want to be left out ... My dad said he would buy me a bike if I did ... I was only eight years old, but my dad wanted to be an elder, so he made me ... etc. In each of these cases, and countless others, it boils down to what truly motivated a person to "take the plunge." Was it love for the Lord and what He accomplished for us, and a desire to obey Him? Or, was it some external coercion to which we yielded? If the latter, then such persons should indeed consider being baptized (I did not say RE-baptized, for can one truly consider their first experience a genuine baptism?).

There is another group of people, though ... and I must admit that I fell into this category for a time. It is made up of those who were baptized at an early age (I was eleven), and who, in later years, have wondered, "Just what was going through my heart and mind when I made that decision?" I am 60 years old now, and couldn't tell you exactly what all I was thinking almost half a century ago when I made that decision. I do know, however, that my parents had spoken of it often, as had the teachers and preacher at the congregation we attended. I can remember my Grandmother speaking of it. I have no doubt that I knew who Jesus was, what He had done for me, and that He expected me to obey His commands ... one of which was to be baptized. Could I have written a dissertation on baptism at that time? Of course not. But, I loved the Lord and I wanted to do what He asked me to do, whether I fully understood all aspects of that compliance or not (and I assure you I did not). Thus, I have come to the place in my spiritual journey, and in my understanding, where I am comfortable that I responded in "obedience of faith," and that this was fully sufficient. Since that time I have grown considerably in my perception and appreciation of the rite of baptism. That does not mean I have to go "take the plunge ... again." It just means that following my birth I began to grow!! I suspect that a great many of you out there have gone through this same struggle, and this may well be what the young people are struggling with at the congregation of the preacher in Nashville who wrote to me. If so, then I would advise him to help these young disciples to see that their justification and salvation are not about perfect knowledge or precise practice of patterns or attaining and maintaining sinless perfection, but rather about loving commitment to and relationship with the Father through His Son. May God help us to get beyond ritualism and into relationship; past tradition and into greater awareness of Truth; out of bondage and into freedom in Christ Jesus!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, I have been serving in the ministry (in Counseling and Music Therapy) since 2003 in a non-denominational Christian group. I have been praying fervently that God would help me find something in "black and white" that would help me answer the question, "How can a minister even think of carrying a weapon, let alone a concealed weapon?" Several of my co-workers (we're all female) are contemplating going to a shooting range and signing up for classes so that we might receive proper training in the use of a handgun. Many of us own a weapon, but, being conscientious people, we wanted to go about this in the "right way," becoming skilled in their use. However, my being in the ministry was becoming a huge obstacle to me because I knew I would constantly have to be explaining or defending carrying a weapon. So, I have been praying ... and today I found your web site, and your Reflections article Concealed Carry Christians: Pistol Packin' Pastors and Parishioners -- Reflections #345, and it was just exactly what I needed ... truly an answer from God to my prayers!! I have printed it out and will simply hand a copy of it to anyone who questions me about why I have chosen to carry a weapon. Thank you, brother.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Your article on "The Universal One Body" could not have come at a better time!! For the past several months I have been feeling more and more disconnected from the people where we worship. I have been feeling like a stranger at the congregation where we have been members for almost five years. It has been the strangest feeling, almost like God is preparing me to leave this group for a more fulfilling one where I can truly worship Him in spirit and truth, giving more of myself in worship than is "allowed" here. After reading your article, I no longer feel as though I will be "lost" if my family and I seek a congregation outside of the Churches of Christ. I had been praying for a light from God, kind of like Saul got on the road to Damascus, and I believe God has provided that light through your article ... and that light is very bright!! Thank you!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Brother in Christ, Thank You for your thoughtful Reflections on the church universal. Like you, I am frustrated with those of our brethren who will not consent to clear their minds enough to view God's Word in a much more simple and pure way. But, I am also frustrated with myself for not having seen these truths earlier in my life. There have been so many missed opportunities to share in a broader Christian fellowship, and to be a better influence, and all because I was too narrow-minded! The Lord said that one way the world would know that we were His disciples is by our love for one another. I am ashamed to say that I didn't show much love for those outside of my own traditions! I should have shown greater love! Although some of my ultra-conservative brethren are petty, harsh, crude, unkind and hypocritical, most in this group seem to be simply struggling to be "good enough" to get to heaven (and, yes, I am aware of the problem with that statement), which is why I believe your articles are so very important and helpful. God bless you, Al, in your continued study and teaching of His Word.

From a Reader in Ohio:

Dear Bro. Al, It is unbelievable how the Holy Spirit works!! When I finally reached the point where I turned things over to Him, saying, "You take this one, Lord, I don't know what to do," He reached out to me in a dramatic way! Just this weekend my husband (of 20 years) and I had a major blowout about the very issue you addressed in your Reflections ... and I do mean this exact topic --- whether or not WE are the ONLY ones going to heaven! A little history: my husband is from a very Catholic family, and I am from a very Church of Christ family, both going back for generations in their respective churches. Five years ago my husband was baptized, and last year he baptized our three sons. I helped bring him into this group, but now I feel the Churches of Christ are doing nothing but pushing him away because of their constant "dogging of other religions." He's beginning to believe this is the mindset of all those in the Church of Christ church. I didn't know what to do, so turned it over to the Lord ... and within hours your Reflections appeared!! Thank You for helping me explain that this mindset is "astounding arrogance (not to mention ignorance)," and that it does NOT reflect the thinking of ALL of those within the Churches of Christ. Now I have written proof that there IS someone (you) within the Churches of Christ speaking out with the love of Jesus. If only these other people could see the great harm they're doing! -- we work so hard to bring our loved ones to church, and they just end up running them off by their exclusivism. Brother Al, I just wanted to encourage you, and to let you know that the Holy Spirit spoke to me through you at the very moment I needed Him the most! Thank You, brother. I'd give anything to be a part of your congregation -- so move to Ohio!!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Bro. Al, Please let me thank you for the important work you do in assisting those of us who are or have been in a legalistic relationship with God. I am one of the ones who managed to get out of a very legalistic Church of Christ, although I was literally scared to death to leave. After over 21 years of being indoctrinated into their patternistic theology, I firmly had come to believe that to ever leave this group was the same as leaving God, and that I would go to hell. However, your writings helped me immensely. I just can't thank you and God enough for what you are doing in your writing ministry, and I know it had to be God who led me to your powerful writings!! You have helped me so much in my recovery from legalism! I literally don't know what would have happened to me if I hadn't found your Reflections!! I know, from firsthand experience, the things you must endure because of your writings -- the unloving and unchristian things that are flung at you and spoken about you from legalists like the ones I left. However, please don't quit this "good fight" of yours. You can't even imagine how many people you've affected for good through your work -- it is a light being held up for us!! May God continue to bless you and keep you.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I read your Reflections all the time, and you have helped me greatly. I heard a quote the other day from a guest preacher here: "Legalism is narcissism with a halo." Loved it!! Anyway, I see on Facebook that you are friends with Scott Jarvis, who just happens to be the preacher at the church I've been attending. I love that church! Thanks for all you do, Al. God bless you!

From an Author in Texas:

Al, my friend, you KNOW I'm loving this one ("The Universal One Body")! There are so many quotes I'm going to take from it. Great job!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, "The Universal One Body" is one of your BEST articles!! Thanks so much for all you do and say!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Outstanding article!! Loved every word of it. I hope more and more brothers and sisters will come to understand the truths you write about!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, What an excellent article on the Body of Christ vs. the "Church of Christ" church!! If we are going to actually RESTORE the Jerusalem church, as the legalists seem to want, then wouldn't we have to allow groups like the circumcision party to be part of it? Allow "Councils" (as per Acts 15) to determine policy for other congregations whenever issues arise that affect the entire Body of Christ? Allow someone like James to be over the elders? Allow the deacons to be selected first, then the elders?

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Mr. Maxey, One of your readers passed along to me your essay on the universal church. It was highly interesting from a Protestant point of view, but misses the mark somewhat in respect to Catholic Church doctrine. An unbiased examination of Scripture, the epistles authored by the anointed successors to these Apostles, and primary documentation from the period all conclusively prove that the Apostolic, Holy Roman Catholic Church is the same church founded by Christ when He handed the keys of it to St. Peter. All Protestant sects date from the 16th century, and were once in communion with the Church, so they cannot possibly justify a claim of being the one and the same church founded by Jesus (although many conceited heretics have tried to make that claim).

From Johnny Robertson in Virginia:
The TV Host of - What Does The Bible Say?

Al, You know that you want to be in a denomination, but you can't leave the Lord's Church for pride's sake! All the stuff you write is just regurgitated Independent Christian Church stuff. You have followed Ketcherside. Why not just go on and leave the Church?! As for the reason you are being so "well read" by people --- ignorance in the world is at an all time high. Have you noticed how many subscribers all the GAY mags have these days?!! I won't be such a hypocrite as to say to you, "Have a good afternoon," but will rather say, "Would that they were even cut off which trouble" us (Gal. 5:12)!!

From a Physician/Elder in South Carolina:

Brother Al, One of my friends, who is a minister, pointed out that the NT church in Corinth had many serious problems, but this group of believers was still referred to as "saints." Thus, I look to my "denominational" friends for common ground, and then, as opportunity arises, I discuss with them the truth as I understand it. I try to adopt the attitude of Priscilla and Aquila as they instructed Apollos. Apollos was not considered condemned, but rather was a fellow disciple who lacked fuller understanding. If we boil down what is stated in the "Great Commission," as to what is normative for being added to the "church," then we should be able to share a common hope with all "baptized believers." That includes many groups, including Baptists, Amish, and those of other faith systems who have submitted themselves to immersion, having confessed a faith in Jesus Christ. As a physician who meets many people each day, I particularly enjoy discussing these matters with ministers of various other faith groups. To give credit, many in other faith groups are more understanding of the concept of the "universal church" than we are. No doubt God ultimately determines who is in the universal church, but I am curious as to whom we would readily recognize if we concluded that "baptized believers" is the starting point.

From a Minister in Missouri:

Brother Al, I loved your article about the universal One Body!! As you know, I was raised to believe that the One Cup Church of Christ constituted the ENTIRE Body of Christ on earth. When I met the man that my mother was to later marry, he told me, "I also believe that the church of Christ is the only church that will go to heaven." He went on to say, "Some of the members of the church of Christ worship in Baptist churches, some in Christian churches, some in Methodist churches ..." You get the point. I found great wisdom in that statement, and I share my step-dad's words with others on a regular basis.

From a Reader in Canada:

Brother Al, The gall of these legalists and patternists to divide God's family over minor matters, and then declare themselves the ONLY true church on earth!! They have made us a joke and a laughing stock!! Ever since we started preaching "issues," and took our eyes off Jesus, we have been in decline. We will never reach the lost with dogma-driven sermons and teaching. I wish that I could find a Christ-centered and Spirit-led congregation in our area, instead of one driven by manmade "issues." I suffered for years in a legalistic congregation, and became increasingly discouraged as I listened week after week to lessons about "issues," when what I needed was to know Jesus. I needed a relationship with the Father, I needed the power of the Spirit to live the new life to which I had been called. I did not need to hear more and more about "issues." And, 50 years later, these men are still preaching "issues," rather than perceiving the need to focus on Jesus. No wonder the ultra-conservative Churches of Christ are in decline!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I just want to write and tell you that I really enjoyed reading "The Universal One Body," as well as all the other weekly articles you send me! I am not sure if you remember me or not, but I ordered your book "Down, But Not Out" a couple of years ago after you were kind enough to speak with me on the phone while I was going through a divorce. I am a "recovering legalist," and I value your thoughts. You have helped me tremendously. Keep spreading the Word!

From a Reader in Texas:

As always, Bro. Al, your most recent Reflections article ("The Universal One Body") was another very timely lesson. Just this morning in Bible class this very topic came up in our discussion. I have now sent your article to the class teacher. He is a good teacher, and I believe he will really appreciate what you had to say.

From an Elder in Florida:

Brother Al, Is it possible to be in a denomination (i.e., a "brand name" church group) and not be denominational? Is it possible to be in a sect (a group that feels it is the sum total of the Body of Christ on earth to the exclusion of all other sincere believers in Jesus) without being sectarian? Is it possible to be in a cult (a group that perceives it has a monopoly on a relationship with God, and that all others who love Jesus are to be either converted or scorned, if they can not or will not buy into their "patternism") without being cultic? YES!! In every manmade denomination, sect and cult, there are sincere believers who see themselves as part of the "bigger picture," rather than just one little "historical snapshot" within the Kingdom of God. This hopeful reality is even true of some members of the 103-year-old "Church of Christ" group. In fact, there are quite likely many among these precious people who likewise refuse "to trust in themselves that they are righteous and look down on all others" [Luke 18:9-14]. Unfortunately, Pharisaic thinking is still alive, and it is destructive to a pure and unadulterated faith in Jesus alone for salvation.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Dear Bro. Al, How refreshing and stimulating to receive your Reflections every week. We in the Churches of Christ are certainly glued to our legalistic patternism. At times I become so disgusted with our utter stupidity that I wish we had an Independent Christian Church fairly nearby. The constant declining in membership in Churches of Christ will continue unless we deal with two very important matters: our exclusivity and our closed minds regarding instrumental music. Some of our more progressive congregations are recognizing this fact and finally dealing with these matters, but then some simple-minded legalist comes along and removes them from the Church Directory (see: Reflections #337). But, thank God, some of our congregations are moving forward anyway. The outlandish hypocrisy is that most of our educated ministers will privately acknowledge these truths, but they will not speak them from the pulpit for fear of losing their positions! Oh how the heart of Jesus must be hurting! Brother Al, you always inspire me when I read your writings, which are so elegantly worded and simply applied. Please continue to help us, because we are rapidly "going down the drain."

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, One of your readers spoke of "the old ladies" in his congregation who "would have a heart attack if anyone ever left those 'magic words' off of the prayer." Well, being an old lady myself (almost 72), there was a time when I too thought a prayer was not "finished" (and certainly not heard by God) until that final phrase ("in Jesus' name, Amen") was affixed. To reinforce that thinking, we had a speaker who occasionally berated the members of the audience for falling asleep in the middle of their evening prayers when they went to bed, stating that such unfinished prayers were NOT heard by our God. However, after my husband and I became born again Christians (we were previously in the One Cup group), we realized that if we were IN Christ Jesus, then each and every thing that we did was IN Him. If God blessed us, forgave us, added us to His church family as saved people, then surely He heard our every prayer, as He knows our every thought. It's the same mentality as one of the men in our One Cup church experience who refused to pray standing at the microphone (which the "old ladies" needed for him to do so they could hear the prayer), as he insisted one could NOT acceptably pray unless he were kneeling down. I felt sorry for him then, and I still do. Some of my best prayers are in the shower, or zipping through the air in one of those new-fangled tin cans with a propeller!!

From a Reader in Alaska:

Brother Maxey, You are one of the clearest thinkers and writers I have ever found. I enjoy your essays very much. With regard to prayer, I like the approach of the lead character in one of my favorite movies: Fiddler on the Roof, who had a free way of praying in a conversational tone and through singing. His song "If I Were A Rich Man" begins with an easy appeal to God. I would love for my own prayers to be as free, open and frequent as he demonstrates his to be in the movie. I also find the prayer forms of the native Alaskans to be very near to that mentioned above.

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